Minnesota’s Schlomka Provides Portable Toilets For Construction, Special Events And The Oil Industry

Fourth-generation pumper Danny Schlomka was destined for a career in wastewater, but he branched out and made the portable sanitation specialty his own

Minnesota’s Schlomka Provides Portable Toilets For Construction, Special Events And The Oil Industry
Danny Schlomka bought his latest rig, this 2014 four-wheel-drive Ford crew cab, off the floor of the 2014 Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International (now called the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show).

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Family ties helped Danny Schlomka wedge a foot into the door of the portable sanitation industry. But he pushed it wide open and kept it that way all on his own, turning a tiny sliver of an old-line septic service and industrial cleaning enterprise into a thriving business in southeastern Minnesota.

Since heading out on his own in 2007, Schlomka has grown Schlomka’s Portable Restrooms & Mobile Pressure Washing LLC in Hastings from one employee (himself), one service truck and a half dozen restrooms into a diversified company with four employees, four pump trucks and more than 400 restrooms.

Success didn’t come by way of a grand strategic business plan; Schlomka says he took some lumps along the way as he learned the business. But he had three things going for him: a great business reputation, established by his hard-working grandfather, Hank Schlomka; a solid work ethic, instilled by his father, Donny; and a simple business philosophy — make customers consider his business irreplaceable.

“When I started out, I never dreamed the business would become what it is today,” Schlomka says. On the restroom side, monthly rentals generate about 90 percent of the revenue, with the rest related to special events. Restroom rentals produce about 85 percent of the company’s sales, with the balance coming from a pressure-washing specialty.

FAMILY MATTERS

Schlomka’s business technically dates back to 1939, when his great-grandfather, Carl Schlomka, and his brother, Roy, started a cesspool-cleaning business. In 1968, Hank Schlomka took over the business and expanded into industrial cleaning services for area refineries and pipelines.

Hank eventually sold the industrial cleaning branch of the company to his son and daughter-in-law, Donny and Susan Schlomka (Danny’s parents), in 2000. As he prepared for retirement, Hank then sold the septic end of the business to his nephew, Larry Schlomka, and his granddaughter, Andrea, in 2006. The septic business offered a few restrooms for its loyal customers, and Larry wasn’t interested in portable sanitation.

So Donny told son Danny he should think about serving that niche.

Schlomka jump-started his fledgling business by nabbing a big job supplying 50 restrooms for a 70-mile-long oil pipeline project south of St. Paul, Minn. His family’s connections in the refinery/pipeline industry helped him get the job, but he proved up to the task; in fact, by the time the project ended in fall of 2008, he was providing 75 restrooms.

The job was critical in two ways. First, it gave Schlomka the capital to expand his inventory. Secondly, it led to small-scale diversification when the pipeline company asked Schlomka if he was also interested in buying equipment to pressure wash some of its machines.

DONATING UNITS

“After that, it got so busy that I hired my first employee,” Schlomka explains. “That employee drove the portable restroom routes, while I ventured into pressure washing. It involved a lot of long hours, but some of that had a lot to do with not knowing how to do things. … I was flying by the seat of my pants. Looking back, getting that one job … allowed me to grow that much in one year. It definitely was a unique opportunity.”

After the big project wound down, Schlomka continued to build his business. He initially focused on events like weddings, parties and graduations, but also strategically sought long-term rentals from customers along specific central routes.

“I also donated restrooms for fundraising walks and runs for local hospitals and charities,” he adds. “It was a good way to get my name out there. Was it risky? Yes. But it kept us growing. … In fact, there hasn’t been one year when I haven’t bought restrooms or equipment, even if it wasn’t a very profitable year. I always reinvest profits back into the business.”

In general, Schlomka says he doesn’t worry about differentiating his company from competitors. “I just concentrate on what works for my customers,” he notes.

As an example, he cites QuickScents and Cabana Spray deodorizer products made by Satellite Industries. “I buy things that work,” Schlomka says. “I want our restrooms to smell noticeably better. We also offer hand sanitizer in all our restrooms at no extra cost.”

EQUIPMENT LIST

The company owns 400 Global restrooms from Satellite. Schlomka likes the open-grid floor that promotes fresh-air circulation. About 30 of the restrooms comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act; they’re used primarily in municipal parks, he says.

The truck fleet includes a 2006 Ford F-250 with a self-fabricated 300-gallon waste/100-gallon freshwater steel tank and Conde pump from Westmoor Ltd.; a 2000 Ford F-450 with a 600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank and Conde pump built by Satellite Industries; a 2011 Ford F-750 built out by L. T. & E. Inc. with an 800-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank and Masport Inc. pump; and a 2014 Ford F-550 equipped with four-wheel drive, a 600-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank from L. T. & E. and a Masport pump. Vacuum trucks are also equipped with pressure washing equipment from Cat Pumps and powered by Honda or Briggs & Stratton engines.

Schlomka says the four-wheel-drive Ford truck, purchased at the 2014 Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International (now the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show or WWETT), helps drivers better contend with Minnesota’s brutal winters. “Sometimes it’s tough to get to some of our portable restrooms,” he notes. “We rent units to semipermanent sites in parks and ice-skating rinks that may not be plowed out before we get there … we can’t wait for plows to come.

“The four-wheel drive also helps us out in summer when we rent restrooms for corn-detasseling jobs,” he adds. “We have to drag the restrooms out into farm fields – sometimes a couple hundred yards in – and the ground tends to be quite muddy.”

Other equipment includes two pickup trucks (a 2008 Dodge Ram 3500 and a 1996 GMC 3500 Sierra); a 1996 Chevrolet Kodiak box truck that carries pressure washing equipment; two transport trailers made by McKee Technologies Inc.; a skid-mounted pressure washer (8 gpm at 4,000 psi) made by Hydro Tek Systems Inc.; and one skid-mounted hot- and cold-water Hydro Tek pressure washer (5 gpm at 4,000 psi) with a winterizing kit, used mostly for thawing frozen septic lines and other drainlines.

Schlomka says he went with one lower-flow unit because it minimizes water usage. “If I’m out all day long, it’s usually not easy to find a water source to keep the tank filled,” he explains. “So I want to use the least amount of water possible but still maintain a decent amount of pressure.”

REFINERY SERVICE

The business took another big leap in 2011 when it began supplying restrooms to a local refinery that Schlomka often visited while working for his father. The refinery is Schlomka’s biggest client and occupies a good portion of the company’s resources.

“I do have a lot of my eggs in one basket … and all those worst-case scenarios run through your head every so often,” he says. “But all I can do is mitigate future problems by seeing what’s ahead – and make my company irreplaceable. If the refinery wants us to do something, we do it. Or if we see something that needs to be done, we take care of it for them. It helps a lot that I know the refinery like the back of my hand because I used to work for my dad’s vacuum company.”

Looking ahead, Schlomka says one of his biggest challenges is controlling the pace of the company’s growth. Accepting more customers eventually requires more employees and equipment; to temper growth, he generally takes on only clients that stand along existing driver routes.

“I provide a quality service, and if I take on more work, I run the risk of taking away from the obligations I already have,” he explains. “I find it difficult because, financially, you can only grow so fast … if you hire another person, you want to do right by them by giving them enough hours. And if you need 100 new restrooms, that’s about $40,000.

“So we’re good to go as long as we make enough money to be profitable and grow at a measured pace,” he continues. “I’m mainly worried about maintaining the customers we have because they’ve treated us so well for so many years. I tend to stay in my comfort nook and try to grow slowly and steadily.”

And keep on making his company difficult to replace.

MORE INFORMATION

Cat Pumps - 763/780-5440 - www.catpumps.com

Hydro Tek - Cleaning Equipment Mfg. - 800/274-9376 - www.hydrotek.us

L. T. & E., Inc. - 888/848-3727 - www.ltetanks.net

Masport, Inc. - 800/228-4510 - www.masportpump.com

McKee Technologies - Explorer Trailers - 866/457-5425 - www.explorertrailers.com

Satellite Industries - 800/328-3332 - www.satelliteindustries.com

Westmoor Ltd. - 800/367-0972 - www.westmoorltd.com



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